An Inspiring Pollinator Story – Creating Monarch Meadows

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Creating Monarch Meadows

Julie, of Georgetown, recently shared an inspiring idea for Monarch conservation and her personal story of doing away with her lawn and replacing it with a biodiverse, pollinator-friendly and edible garden. Here is Julie’s note and photos from her lawn-free yard!

“When I was growing up, in a small town in southern Quebec, my dad had a huge field where he gardened. Half was a vegetable garden and the other half was filled with grasses and milkweed. Every summer I would stand out in the middle of that wild field and the Monarch butterflies would be soaring and swooping all around me. I marveled at the sight, but took it for granted that every sunny summer day they would be there.

Flash forward nearly 40 years, to my garden in southern Ontario. If we spot a Monarch we run for the camera. Three years ago, I was delighted to watch a Monarch lay an egg on one of the Butterfly Weeds (Asclepias tuberosa) in my backyard. The summer of 2013 however, I only saw three Monarchs. One day, as I was pruning some towering Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and reflecting on the sad plight of migrating butterflies, my daughter came outside and exclaimed excitedly: “Mom, there’s a Monarch over your head!” I took the arrival of a Monarch at that precise moment as a sign. A sign that: “While there’s life, there’s hope”; a sign from the universe that I needed to do everything I personally could to help save the greatest migration on Earth.

In addition to giving away hundreds of perennials and planting school gardens, I decided to maximize the likelihood of Monarch caterpillars in my own garden. So I started removing a large section of my front lawn for a wildlife garden. I had just begun when fate intervened and my street was ripped up for a water main replacement. When I told the construction workers I was removing the lawn to help the Monarchs, and other wildlife, they dug it up for free.

Julie's front yard pollinator garden - BEFORE.
Julie’s front yard pollinator garden – BEFORE.

During the 2014 fall migration, I was overjoyed to have (mostly solitary) Monarchs visit my garden daily. My daughter laughed every time I excitedly announced: “Monarch”, dropped whatever I was doing, and went tearing outside with my camera. They nectared almost exclusively on the Meadow blazingstar (Liatris ligulistylis) and then headed south.

I know, however, no matter what I do, if their paths are not filled with others doing likewise, my efforts will be for naught. While discussing the need for people throughout North America to be involved, my twelve year old daughter Jenny said we should start the “Monarch Migration Movement”.

Julie's front yard garden AFTER.
Julie’s front yard garden – AFTER.

All over North America, there are many groups, and individuals, working to save the Monarchs. What if everyone who wanted to help could go to one website to obtain all the information they needed? And on this website there was a map which showed all the fields and farms, gardens at schools, parks, businesses, and homes which had planted milkweed or butterfly weed. What if this map showed areas in red, until enough fields, roadways and gardens were planted to be cautiously optimistic, when they would then turn to yellow? And, once optimal amounts were planted, they would turn green. What if there was a counter on the website which tallied up every single garden and you could watch the numbers climb higher and higher and see the continent wide efforts being made to save the Monarchs?

A map would clearly identify the areas which most needed habitat and everyone involved could start social networking amongst their family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends, in person and online, and letting them know that their area was desperately in need of habitat.

What if we called these gardens Monarch Meadows and we created habitat, which not only supported Monarchs but indigenous wildlife, pollinators, and migrating birds year round?

The benefits would be numerous. For, while people were gardening, they would be:

Forming new friendships within their community, across all demographics.

– Learning about the importance of organic gardening and the dangers of pesticides

– Getting exercise

– Reducing their stress levels

– Beautifying their neighborhoods (which has been shown to reduce crime rates)

– Possibly learning about growing food for themselves, thus reducing their own carbon footprint

– Creating healthy organic soil, which sequesters carbon and retains more water

– Creating habitat to support all wildlife, thus protecting bees, other pollinators, and biodiversity

While we were planting these gardens we could ask artists and photographers of all ages to submit photos and designs which anyone could download and put on a t-shirt, hat, or tote to further spread awareness. Everyone involved would learn about the groups that have been tirelessly working for years to protect the Monarchs and people could be asked to support their efforts through donations which support education and habitat creation and protection.

While planting, we could advocate in our cities, towns, states or provinces for bans on spraying roadways, parks, and public land and encourage the planting of native milkweed species. People need something to hope for and work towards, to feel they are making a difference, but they often don’t know exactly what to do. One website, with all the necessary information, could guide them and the map and rising tally inspire. After all, the $6.64 billion dollars Americans are willing to spend to save the Monarchs would buy a heck of a lot of plants and seeds.

So what do you say? Can we all gather in one place and reach out to gardeners, farmers, bird watchers, nature lovers, pollinator, wildlife, and biodiversity advocates, people in the organic food movement and get planting? After all, as one of the construction workers who ripped out my lawn for my wildlife garden said: “Who doesn’t love butterflies?”

With hope for the Monarchs,

Julie (Georgetown, Ontario)

Aug 30 2014 New Front Garden IMG_0343